The horse's pasture to the East...

Monday, August 29, 2011


I have a Pavlovian reaction to vacuum cleaners. (Intrigued, aren't you?) After spending the past fifteen or so years living with a half coyote/half dog, I've become an expert on vacuum cleaners. Newman made more hair than any other animal I've ever had the privilege of living with. I sometimes think he was so thin, not because of his coyote heritage, but because he spent most of his energy making a hair coat.

Most dogs shed out their hair in the Spring and grow a thick coat for the Winter. Hair in the Spring is normal. You brush and groom, brush and groom and, in a few weeks, it's over. "Hair Anxiety" drops to a more manageable level and you move on with your year. But Newman did what I called The Big Blow Out every year. That's when he would make his nests for Gypsy too. Was it a coyote thing? I never knew since I had no way to compare his behaviors to a wild coyote.

But that wasn't where it stopped. He would make hair...and make hair...and make hair...and make hair. Over the years we had at least eight vacuum cleaners that his hair blew out. That averages out to a new vacuum cleaner every two years. Expensive vacuums, cheap vacuums, made for picking up pet hair vacuums, industrial vacuums...nothing made it through the "Newman Test". I even resorted to using a wet/dry vac to clean my house. Blew that out too. And that's why I have a Pavlovian Response to a new vacuum cleaner.

Every time I bought a new one (by the way, I was really, really good at disassembling vacuums, replacing belts and parts...anything it took to keep the newest vacuum going as long as possible.) I would clean and clean and clean. I'd vacuum everything! The carpets were always first, of course. But then came the furniture, walls, blinds, fan blades, pillows, backs of paintings...EVERYTHING! I knew the vacuum was going to die sooner rather than later so I wanted to get my licks in as much as possible before the changing of the belts and cleaning of the parts began. It was very rewarding!

I loved the three or four months of unimpaired vacuuming. Aaaahhhhh, the clean air and carpets, the clean furniture and was heaven! Over those years I learned to love BEGINNINGS. I found out it was fun to work with a good tool that, even though it was doomed to an unusual demise, was going to make me very happy in the beginning and then was going to stretch my patience and force me into that place outside my comfort zone where I had to learn. I didn't really want to learn about vacuums. It was a forced issue that became part of the journey we had with Newman living with us. After a while it was a running family joke with bets taken on the side about how long it would be before I had to start taking it apart to keep it going. I have no doubt at all that, if I am given Grandchildren, I will have some really funny stories to tell them about how I learned to be a vacuum cleaner expert!

Mind you, I've always been one of those people who loved to start something ; school, a painting, a new garden, most anything. So having this Pavlovian response to a new vacuum cleaner probably wasn't all that unexpected. But it also taught me patience, made me even more creative in how I stretched my dollars for parts, forced me to learn more about how machines run...something I'm not easily drawn to. The operative word in that sentence was PATIENCE. It was either let myself get angry (which I admit to doing a lot of until we got to our fourth vacuum cleaner.) or make myself look at it as a game.

I have Newman to thank for setting me up for more fun while I learn how to be a better horseman! His hair coat and all of those vacuum cleaners that didn't pass the "coyote tough test" set me up for success further down the road.

Whenever things get intense, and things DO get intense sometimes with horses, I remind myself of the vacuum cleaners that I've learned how to repair over the years, the negotiating skills that I've built when dealing with vacuum cleaner companies and the stores that sell the machines, the patience and the laughter that comes from beginning to see it as a game. I smile, things lighten up and off we go together to play instead of to work.

So, in a convoluted way, I guess you could say that I now have a translated Pavlovian response to Parelli and Natural Horse-Man-Ship. I get to keep practicing my sends, my allows, my bring backs and it's all a game that, hopefully, when it gets "broken", I can call or write or read or watch a video that will help me to find the "parts" to fix the game. Now the bets being taken are about when I will have a breakthrough or when I will reach a new level.

Just one more thing. After Newman left this world and moved on to the next, he took one more vacuum cleaner with him. I thought about burying it with him as sort of a monument for archaeologists to find thousands of years from now. Think of the stories it would generate while they tried to understand why an early 21st century vacuum cleaner was buried with petrified coyote bones! But he wasn't happy when I ran the vacuum. It was time to exit to the world of grasses and fields when I went on one of my "vacuuming benders." So I opted to throw it out.

And now I have a new vacuum cleaner and very clean floors. Anyone want to take any bets how long this one will last?

I am, ever yours, Nancy, laughing out loud at the way things go!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Sometimes you make connections in ways you don't expect. My husband was reading the news on line this morning and found an obituary for the father of a friend of mine, from college. We'd lost track of each other for more than forty years. I still think about her ever so often, probably because of the time of life that we met. We were both teenagers just out of high school and really excited about being on our own, out in the big world. And, like all young people that age, we had no idea how short that time was. We'd always been young so what could happen?

I didn't know that the reason she wasn't at school the next semester was because she'd transferred to the Arts Institute in Kansas City, quite a prestigious school here in the Midwest. She never said goodbye. She was just gone. So, again in that way that the very young have, I went on with my life. I adjusted. But I never forgot about her either. For a brief time we were best friends, together every free moment, probably because the world was bigger than we thought it was going to be. It was much easier to deal with the unexpected attention we got as young girls when we could come back to her room and hide for a while to talk about it and reassure each other.

I sent her a letter on line giving her my condolences for loosing her Dad, a very nice person. I'd met him when I went home with her for my first Thanksgiving away from my home. I remember him being very intelligent, kind, funny and obviously very proud of his talented daughter. Her relationship with her parents was quite different than mine, so I went home with new ideas about how families were supposed to be. It was one of my first experiences in the home of another adult friend and quite an eye opener for me. Her family gave me a new direction. I was going to learn how families, healthy families, were supposed to function. I'd known at a deep level for a long time that my nuclear family was not an ideal situation.

I'm not going to dwell here on my own past. I don't identify myself with it anymore. But I will say that it was the first time that I made a truly adult decision to break the patterns that I had been raised in. My path had changed because of one long weekend in a small town, at her house. I was going to learn how to be my own person.

When that relationship ended so quickly, I was devastated, but only for a short time. It was the sixties and everything was changing...the whole world was turning upside down, or at least it seemed that way. It was a time to experiment in ways that hadn't happened before. I was going to walk the path of the artist, so I jumped in head first and never looked back. I grew my hair out until it hit the backs of my knees, found my best friend and moved in with him and his roommate.

You're wondering where this is taking you, what it has to do with horses. One of the few things that I decided to carry on to my "new path" was my love for animals. You see, they never lied to me. Their respect for me, their love for me was real. An, horse, cat, birds...has no hidden itinerary. They either like you or they don't. And that was what I was looking for, that honesty and loyalty. It was another way of making my own patterns. Their truth became my truth. They existed in the here and now, living as they were in that moment.

That doesn't mean they didn't have memories of the past. They do, and those experiences made it easier for them to make better decisions in their present. It's a model I'm still following. My job is to improve, to make my better into my best. Their job is to be my partner. The best part of that relationship is, aside from the endless opportunities to grow, learn, be better, healthier physically, mentally, emotionally, is the time I spend with them.

My horse is a true reflection of who I am. I can't avoid it. They become who I am every single day. And when I'm incongruent because I forget and try to "put on a false face" (one of the old patterns I grew up with), they turn and walk away. It's as simple as that. Horses can be very blunt.

You can't flim flam a horse. "Horses teach humans and humans teach horses." Eight Principals of Horse-Man-Ship. You see where I'm taking you?

Part of my rediscovery of who I want to be instead of who I was "supposed to be" has taken me into places I didn't know were there...inside myself. I've at last found a group, an organization, that I can be a part of that has no hidden agenda. It isn't hard for me to say "I am Parelli" anymore. It's become a philosophy. I"m doing my best to take it in to every part of my life. They've said that their goal is to make a better world for horses AND humans. Today some part of that idea clicked into my new path, one of my new patterns and I got it.

I have no doubt that there will be all kinds of curves, hills, dips and maybe even mountains and canyons for me to deal with. And I can't wait! Not one day has been dull since I've started my life with horses. I will have all kinds of questions to answer, lessons to learn and patterns to follow. It's an opportunity for never ending self improvement.

I remember driving home from my Friend's house. It wasn't that long a drive but it seemed to go on and on to me. We didn't talk much, probably because we were both tired. She fell asleep while I drove and thought about our weekend. It was such an important beginning for me.

I never had a chance to tell her folks how much I appreciated that weekend, well at least not in any profound way. I wrote a nice thank you note the way that my Grandmother had taught me. But I never told them about the change in me, probably because I thought there was plenty of time to do that later. Time is endless when you're young, and that's the way it should be too or we wouldn't take our leaps and make our changes. I can't regret what I couldn't help. Life makes unexpected jumps sometimes.

Today I had a chance to close a circle by writing to her and her Mom. She's "friend-ed" me on Facebook so I'm looking forward to getting to know her again, to catch up. I've had a chance to, at last, say my thank you for starting me down a better path just by being who they were as a family.

I can't wait for tomorrow! Even better, I love where I am right now!

I am, ever yours, Nancy, smiling and pondering the way things go

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Panic...PANIC! Stop the presses...sirens going off...hands in the air PANIC! Ever so often I fall into one of those deep holes of " I just don't think I can do this!". Self doubt overwhelms my horizon and I shut down. Actually, I get really, really busy. Closets get cleaned out. Floors get polished. Even the silver gets polished, what little I have! If I keep my feet moving then I don't have to face the mountain I've built up in front of myself to keep me from moving forward. It's an old story, isn't it?

I'm not learning if I'm not outside my comfort zone. Being outside my comfort zone equals danger. Danger means monsters in the closet and under the bed so DON'T GO THERE! I know, intellectually, that when I build up all of my defenses, my "what if?"s and "but I can't..."s, it's just my brain saying "I don't trust you to keep me alive, so I'm taking over by sabotaging you emotionally." And it works too! I "get busy doing stuff" , totally unimportant stuff (yeah, it nice to have a clean closet, but that kind of thing can wait ) to keep myself from making my good better and my better best.

And pretty soon I've talked myself into thinking that not only am I not improving, not learning, but that I don't deserve to! By spending so much of my time becoming a better horse-woman, I'm being lazy. Backwards, isn't it? I've never worked so hard, physically, in my life to be better for this crew of mine. Most of the time I'm very happily obsessed! In fact, I usually have to make myself slow down because I have a tendency to be a direct line thinker. There isn't anything more "not horse" than being direct line.

My excuse this time around is the weather. It's been over 100 every single day for more than a month here. The land is fried. Crops are failing. The grass is brown and the hay crop was less than half of what it was last year. When it's up to 105, 108 or 111 (like it was yesterday!) it's hard to find a way to Play Games with my horses. We're all doing well to just slog through the day. It really is like being hit with a hot griddle every time I walk out the door.

I have a tendency to get angry at the things I can't the weather. And that's just another way to "Stop the presses! Hold the stage! Cheese it!". Sooner or later I end up like I was this morning, crying out in the barn while I did my morning chores, convinced that I was a failure and I might as well quit!

Pretty effective as a form of self sabotage, isn't it?

It may have been the hammer I knocked off of the shelf, landing on my toe. Or it may have been the wasp that stung me when I jumped, trying to keep from getting hit by the hammer. And those buggers never sting just once! But something made me "hit the wall" and wake up. I came up to the surface, took a deep breath of air and said " Wait a minute. What's going on here? " (along with a few, more than blue, words uttered because now I had two stings on my neck and a swollen toe!) How interesting that, just at the height of my self doubt epiphany, I manage to bruise myself and get myself stung. Sort of a "HEY, NANCY! YOU THERE?" shout out.

While I was inside, putting cold packs on the toe and vinegar on the stings, I started laughing at how funny I must have looked. Laughter always makes me breath deeply, relax. The right brain freeze attack ends and I switch to the other side, the left side, and begin to think again. I broke my own pattern!

So, I've been very effectively putting myself into the box, into the 'safe zone', keeping myself from walking towards my goal. If I were one of my students, what would I say to myself to get the engines started and the whole shebang rolling again? It was time for the inner game of Approach and Retreat! I'd Broken the Pattern with a hammer and a wasp. Step two is break it down into smaller pieces, just like I do with the horses when we've blown through a threshold, and Retreat to build confidence.

I have no idea where my threshold is that I pushed myself through. I'm still a bit blind in that area when it comes to myself. I'm guessing it's because I am so goal oriented that I push harder than I should. When it comes to becoming a better horse-woman, to building my own confidence as well as theirs, to becoming that much sought after 51% / 49% partnership that Pat Parelli talks about I NEED TO SLOW DOWN. I need to follow the tenants of  my favorite quote, "Take the time that it takes so it takes less time.", to move further down my path.

So, this morning we played. I mean we really played. I got out the water hose and we ran through the hose! I scratched all of the best itchy places. I stood around and just watched the haze on the horizon, standing next to Apache and letting everything go. I didn't scoop poop. We did grain later in the morning, like closer to noon! Shocking!

We walked out into the East pasture, the one that gave us only half the hay it did last year, crunching along on top of the dormant grasses. Ever so often we'd stop to graze (Noooooooo...I didn't eat the grass.). I'd match their energy, stand with the same leg cocked that one or the other had, and just hung expectations, no itinerary. In short, I did nothing more than just try to "be" with them.

And then it happened. Apache, my Left Brain Extrovert, asked me a question. He flicked his ears at me, softened his eyes and said " Wanna play?" I was in the zone by then with my swollen toe, sore stings, wet shoes and muddy shirt. I smiled and said " Well, yeah!" and off we went. I don't know how long we played. I didn't have a watch on. Besides, time was irrelevant. This was horse play at it's best!

We walked and trotted together, played Circle game around each other, danced Sideways (a first at Liberty for us!) and walked in a backwards circle just for fun! I should put that part in caps...JUST FOR FUN! Getting it done wasn't the objective here. Having fun while we experimented was!

When I ran my hand down his back, knocking the flies off for him, he turned and nuzzled/groomed me between my shoulders (withers) while I rubbed his withers. And then we were done. He walked off, out into his lovely, long pasture to be with Lucky and Willow. And I turned and limped off towards the house, dogs in tow, with a smile on my face.